In which the author tells you how to run your life -- or at least how to make the most of the fun parts of it.

For instance, inside these pages you will learn how to weather a mortar attack in good spirits; how to avoid booking yourself on the Internet into a bed and breakfast full of twee quilts and dusty tchotkes; and how to plan a dinner party that will stun your guests with deliciousness and style and not destroy your will to live with the amount of work you have to do to pull it off.

These are things I know firsthand, and things people who know me often ask me about (though I usually just book them into bed and breakfasts myself -- identifying ruffled death traps is an acquired skill). I am almost always right about everything (food, style and travel-related, anyway, and often many other things) and if everyone would just do as I say, dinner would taste better, cupcakes would not be dry, your parties would be more fun (for you), and mortar attacks... well, they always suck. I can't do anything about them.

*except laundry. I can't manage my own laundry, much less yours.

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Friday, April 29, 2011

How To Cut A Lot of Little Rolly Tomatoes All At Once

I learned this trick from my Cooking Channel boyfriend Chuck's Day Off.

That's my boyfriend, Chuck's Day Off.

So this is what you do.

Get two dinner plates with lips on the bottom (the ceramic kind, not the flesh kind. I don't think you can get those here.) Invert one plate.

Put your little washed tomatoes (these are Organic Grape Tomatoes) inside the lip, comma ca.

Now put your other plate on top, bottom side down and press a little harder than you think you should. With a serrated knife, cut horizontally through the tomatoes, sawing until you get...

to the other side. et voila! your tomatoes are all cut up and ready to make Butter Chicken, or sauteed Provencal mussels.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How to Make Fava Beans (No chianti)

They are totally lovely, despite the grisly and seemingly permanent association with Hannibal Lecter.

yay, fava

But they sometimes seem a bit more trouble then they are worth. I only recently dived into fava world, and it might be useful to have someone tell you how to make this gorgeous, silken, bright green beans that have absolutely NOTHING to do with lima beans which I hate.

boo lima

limas taste like they are wearing wooly sweaters. Cast them aside! Succotash is terrible!

so, favas.

First you have to take them out of their pods. It's like shelling peas.

Then you throw all the beans into a pot of boiling water and boil them till they feel done -- a few minutes. The outside will be wrinkly like your pinkie when you sit too long in the bath.

Then you have to peel them AGAIN. It's such a pain in the ass but so worth it.

here's the easiest way to do it: Grap a paring knife and make a little cut in the wrinkly skin -- not too deep! just like a paper cut -- then squeeze. A slippery green bean, maybe two split halves, will slither out. Saute in a little olive oil, salt, pepper, a little garlic if your tastes run that way, and serve warm with a shaving or two of good parmesan. Eat.

Friday, April 22, 2011

How Patrick Henry Speaks to Me From Beyond The Grave: By Text Message

This is my Colonial Boyfriend, Patrick Henry. He kept his first wife in the attic. She was crazy.

I am not kidding. Many years ago I taught in a civic education program called Close Up. High school students came from all over the country to spend a week in Washington. If Congress wasn't in session we had to do something else -- so usually we went to Colonial Williamsburg, which I once told the kids is like Disney World without the rides. This is a rather a stretch, but it worked to get them on the bus.

Anyway: We were upstairs in parliament or whatever they called it, where the above painting (and many others) hang. I was guarding the stairwell so the kids couldn't sneak out, because you know they would. I once found a bunch of kids at midnight up the street from their hotel playing video games in a local bar. Brazen!

My mind was wandering a bit because I had already heard the spiel from the historical interpreter 18 times (this is not an exaggeration. I went to CW 19 times, 20 if you count with my family when I was little. It is a wonderful and annoying place, wherein if you see George Wythe -- a historical interpreter playing him, anyway -- and you try to get your kids interested in talking to him by saying "Mister Wythe! Tell us about young Thomas Jefferson!" because he was TJ's teacher and mentor and the kids at least know who TJ is, George Wythe will say "I know not of Thomas Jefferson" and you want to kill him, because he's pretending like it's 1750 or something, and Tom hasn't arrived at William and Mary yet. )

(George Wythe would later go on to be killed by his nephew I believe -- poisoned -- and the nephew got off scot-free because the only witness was Lydia Broadnax, a female slave, and they wouldn't let her testify against a white man. Serves all those bastards right.)

So back to the upper house: the docent is talking about the paintings, my mind is wandering, and someone whispers in my right ear "Listen to this" just as the docent turned to the above Patrick Henry portrait. I turned around to see who had snuck up behind me and there was no one there -- no on the landing, not down the stairs, not up the stairs. Clearly Patrick Henry, my Colonial boyfriend, who didn't want me missing the talk about him. I like the little glasses he wears.

Fast forward to Wednesday. The Boyfriend and I go back to CW to talk to a class at William & Mary about writing. We were in the Wren building, which dates back to I think the early 1700s. Oldest building on campus, where all of our Virginia forefathers attended class.

Class is just about to begin so I reach into my purse to silence my phone. The screen is on to text message. I had not locked my phone so it is being purse-dialed. And what was the word on the screen?


It was either Patrick Henry, who has learned how to text and remains concerned about our British overlords, or 1000 Monkeys typing Hamlet who accidentally hacked into my phone. In any case, I am like Jennifer Love Hewitt but without the terrible Victorian nightgowns or overly dramatic eye makeup.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

How to Make an Emergency Blueberry Tart

I normally hate cooked blueberries -- ie blueberry pie, blueberry sauce for waffles. I'll put up with a blueberry muffin or pancake if the blueberries are fresh -- but usually I find cooked blueberries tasteless, insipid, and overly involved with corn starch.

However, I am marvelous, and I needed an Emergency Blueberry Tart for a photo shoot (still no word from my director of photography if these photos do the trick) so I threw one together with the full intention of not eating them.

But boy howdy they are good.

Here's how I did it: 2 smallish bags of organic blueberries. frozen, from Trader Joe's went into a saucepan with about 1/4 c sugar -- I added a little more, maybe another 1/.4, later in the cooking. I think much depends on your personal blueberries.

I squeezed a half a lime in, put in a tiny dash of vanilla and a whisper of cardamom (have I told you how to make Norwegian waffles with cardamom yet?), and about 3 tablespoons of corn starch I slurried with a bit of water. Cooked, tasted, cooked. Cooled.

Then I made Ina's tart crust -- 2 c flour, 1/2 lb butter (I did my mom's trick, used half shortening, and added it to the food processor at different stages, so it didn't all pulse down into corn meal.) 1/4 c sugar, 1.2 t salt, a wee bit of water. I always put in too much water. Put all that in the food processor (half the fat at the beginning, and then the other half just before you add the water. You want some pea-sized chunks of fat in the crust when you roll it out. Makes it flaky.)

Then i turned it over onto a board, mushed it together quickly, divided it in two and made discs, then wrapped and refrigerated.

When the blueberries and the dough were cool, I rolled out the dough in a free form circle with lots of flour on the board to prevent sticking (I had added too much water), put the dough circle on a parchment covered baking sheet -- you must have parchment in your kitchen at all times - and then spooned on the now somewhat thick blueberry filling in the center. I folded up the sides, brushed the crust with a beaten egg for color, then sprinkled it with sanding sugar (another must in the kitchen). Into the oven at about 375 (I was totally making this up) until the filling bubbled and the crust was golden brown. Ta da! I still wont eat blueberry pie... if I am not the one who made it. Whipped cream and a shaving of lemon zest over the top, done. Took less than 20 minutes to mix up all components and about 30 mins in the oven. Make it!

Monday, April 18, 2011

If You Keep Peas in the Freezer, You'll Never Go Hungry


Here's what to make for dinner tonight. It takes 10 minutes. Take that, Rachel Ray.

(honestly. I always wear that to make roast turkey,and then I change into my St Pauli Girl outfit to make pie.)

Cook up a bunch of orzo pasta -- it looks like rice. This takes about 8 minutes. In the last few minutes of cooking, throw in a bag of frozen peas -- the little ones.

Toss the whole mess into a colander and drain it. Immediately put it back in the hot pot that you cooked it in and grate a bunch of fresh Parmesan cheese over it. Salt and pepper and you're in business.

To glam it up you can (do any of the following, alone or in combination)

  • drizzle a bit of extra virgin olive oil over it.

  • grate lemon zest over it

  • mix it with cooked, crumbled bacon that was cooked with a sliced garlic clove

  • add chopped fresh herbs (dill works, as does basil, flat leaf parsley, mint... even a few thyme leaves)

  • add cooked asparagus (fresh cooked please, in season. not canned.)

  • swirl the peas and pasta in a few tablespoons heavy cream, over medium heat, until the cream thickens slightly. Then add more cheese.

In case you missed 'em : Cherry Blossoms

I'm not sure how ANYONE could say they missed them because traffic was tied up around the monument for WEEKS and it was cheek-to-jowl down along the tidal basin. I think everyone was THERE. The Boyfriend took these photos -- he's good.

This one is the tree in front of my house...

And the view from inside my attic bedroom. Could you die?

This one is from last year ... taken with a blackberry. I like how abstract it is and the colors remind me of Maxfield Parrish.

Friday, April 15, 2011

White House Kitchen and Garden tour!

Although I am not paid a princely sum (as discussed earlier, I draw the same salary as Abe Lincoln's Secretary of War, not adjusted for inflation), my job as editor of Flavor has some excellent side benefits. To wit, a photo shoot in the White House kitchen, and a private tour of the garden. Check out our June/July issue, which I am putting the finishing touches on now. Sigh. Haven't you subscribed yet? Don't you want me to make as much as Herbert Hoover's Secretary of War? THIS WONT HAPPEN UNLESS YOU SUBSCRIBE.


Now you see me, now you don't.

The First Bee Hive. Turns out the White House carpenter is an amateur apiarist (?) so when they decided to keep bees he was all, !"ooh me me!"

The spinach, I have it on good authority, will appear on the Obama's personal table tonight.

I always thought it was spelled Bok Choy. But who am I to argue with the leader of the free world's garden label maker?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How to Make Your Eggs Adorable

tiny little terracotta pots make perfect egg cups. 66 cents at my local hardware store!

You definitely need these with Easter coming up, and now you can serve soft-boiled eggs to guests without them rolling all around.

I first tasted soft-boiled eggs in I think Reagansburg, Germany when I was 13. Total revelation.

I ate about 7 of them in one sitting -- they were served in a bread basket wrapped in a linen napkin.

Fast forward 7 years.
I was studying abroad in southern France and made a few Swedish friends, so when classes were over I took a train up to Stockholm to visit the girlfriend of one of them, Marie Svenillson (anyone out there in Stockholm know Marie???) (Stockholm is possibly my favorite European city). In Stockholm Marie introduced me to the proper picnic (bikes, salmon pate, fresh dill, brown bread... had a very lasting impact), and we had dinner at the castle (really! my host's best friend was the son of the prime minister or something, and they lived in a wing of the castle in the old section of Stockholm. We had cold roasted chicken and avocado salad, among other things). They there was much more drinking and driving around in a boat (she had rich friends). It was graduation night for the high school kids so the party went on forever.

I watched the sun not go down... in mid June in Stockholm it just drops to the horizon, sneaks across a few feet then comes right up again. Jojo, the kid whose family owned the boat, pulled up next to a Coast Guard trawler -- turns out he knew the captain of that boat. There was beer and vodka exchanged across decks and then we zoomed off -- but not, apparently, until after we inadvertently sliced through the line towing a sonar buoy that was hunting Soviet subs (it was the 80s!). We landed on Jojo's family's island (think Elin Woods) and continued to drink, eat herring and maple bread (surprisingly good together) and then went into the sauna.

One by one my group took turns beating one another with birch branches -- good for the circulation -- and then darted off to dive in the Baltic (I think. North Sea?). They finally talked me into it -- so I wrapped myself in a towel (am an American after all) bent over, got beaten (lightly) then took off. I dropped my towel and headed for the sea at full speed -- the only way to dive into cold water -- only to hear them yelling "not there! not there!" Promptly I slipped on slimy wet rocks (that's why "not there") and went ass over teak kettle, finally banging my head and slamming down on my back.
I came to with 6 naked Swedes and their parts all dangling in front of my face as they tried to figure out if I was dead. It was very odd, the whole experience, but fun. My main protector was a guy named Otto who was apparently a Swedish fencing champion and possibly the captain of their Olympic team? We had a love that never was... his father wouldn't let him have me over to THEIR castle for lunch, so that was that. He cancelled our date, and I went on back to the US. All of this brings us to a point: Stockholm has gorgeous home design stores and at one of them on that trip I bought a clutch of tiny terracotta pots advertised as egg cups. They have long since been broken and lost to time, so I'm very glad to have them back. Haven't thought about that long strange night in a long time.

Friday, April 8, 2011

How to Make the Best Roasted Potatoes You Ever Ate

First you have to make a roasted chicken. it's all very simple. Do the following:

1. First obtain a proper chicken. Said chicken should be from an actual farm. It will cost a little more but will not taste like cotton and it will not have been debeaked and declawed and lived in terrible conditions in a fetid chicken house. No, buying a so-called free-range chicken doesn't do it. All industrial chicken houses have to do to qualify for the free range label is to give "access" to the outdoors to chickens. So, 10,000 chickens, jammed in a methane filled hot horrible hut, pecking each other in misery, just need access to a door to the outside, and a tiny patch of grass. None of them ever go out. they are too depressed and many of them just give up and die. is this the kind of chicken you want? It is not. Get a farm chicken. Lived like a king, pecked at insects in cow poop in green fields, died an honorable death. I apologize for this next photo, but really, you should know about this. Once I became aware, I couldn't 't buy chicken in the grocery store anymore.

This is why your grocery store chicken is so cheep. (ha! sad, sad chicken pun).

Compare that with these happy chickens. They have gathered around Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm (who writes for Flavor!) for a discussion group on how to be proper chickens.

2. Next obtain Yukon gold potatoes. If you beg I will tell you a potato joke about Yukon Gold potatoes and Ted Koppel. Wash the potatoes and slice them into 1/4 inch thick slices. Don't peel them. Spread them in the bottom of the pan in which you are roasting the chicken. If you want you can add other stuff, like whole peeled garlic cloves or chopped carrots or mushrooms or chopped celery. But really all you need is potatoes. Now drizzle the potatoes with good cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkle them with coarse sea salt FROM UP HIGH ( I refer you back to How to Run Your Life's treatise on proper salting) and pepper.

3. Rub the chicken all over with olive oil, squeeze a lemon over the top, and liberally salt and pepper it. Should be coarse sea salt and fresh pepper. Stick the lemon in the cavity. You can sprinkle the chicken with smoked paprika, if you like, or stuff it with rosemary or other herbs, but honestly, olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper is good enough. Plop the chicken on top of the potatoes.

This one has rosemary on it.

4. Throw the whole mess in the oven. I like a high heat -- usually around 400. It could be lower or higher -- if any higher watch your chicken closely so it doesn't burn. If the skin starts to get really dark, cover it with tin foil.

5. By the time the chicken is done -- depends on size, usually an hour for me until the legs wiggle easily -- your potatoes will be outrageously delicious and very bad for you, as they will have been basted in olive oil, salt, and rendered chicken fat. Sounds terrible, is insanely delicious. Boyfriend said to me: what did you put on these potatoes that made them so good? I said: chicken fat. He smacked his lips and had more. Sometimes I just make this chicken so I can have the potatoes, and then I make enchiladas with the chicken the next day. I will tell you how to make enchilada sauce in a future post! Easy and delicious. I stole it from Rick Bayliss.

You're welcome.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

How To Manage Your Farm Box

It never looks like this.

Farm box, Community Supported Agriculture, Weekly Delivery of Unwelcome Kohlrabi and Cabbage -- whatever you call it, it sounded like a good idea at the time.

The Unwelcome Kohlrabi

This winter you forked over $300 to $600 bucks to a farmer for a once weekly box of produce (contents: unpredictable) and will soon find yourself overwhelmed with weird vegetables whose season you thought was long since passed (honestly I was getting cabbage in July, and I always thought that was a winter veg?). Here's what to do: 1. It's too late now, but you should sign up for a farm box that delivers on a day or night when you have nothing else scheduled to do. Because you are about to be neck deep in garlic scapes (yay!) and bok choy (boo!), and they will ROT if you don't address them IMMEDIATELY. So: cancel all your plans, you've got work to do. 2. If you have a good farmers market nearby, yay for you -- because you are going to have to fill in some holes on that farm box. So ideally, you'll get the box on night 1, and day 2, head to the market to round things out. My farm box delivered on a Monday which was a total nightmare. I'd be eating cabbage and kohlrabi all week, then go to the market and see gorgeous asparagus, and couldn't buy it because I knew was about to get my avalanche of butternut squash (seriously, it grows in the summer) 2 days later. Don't let this happen to you. 3. Get yourself a food saver (or alternatively good freezer bags.) . If you have to eat everything in that box this week, you'll go homicidal. So divide what you have into "eat this week" and freeze. Chop up the freeze portion into bite size bits and freeze for November when you'll be all gooey hearted at the thought of summer and your nice farmer. 4. Now, with half the stuff safely stored, you need to make some menus to use the stuff, so plan to go to the grocery to get meat and other stuff you'll need. Tonight, however, have on hand bacon or pancetta, garlic, parmesan cheese and pasta. You'll definitely have something you can saute with garlic and bacon and toss with pasta (maybe a little heavy cream) to eat tonight. 5. Garlic scapes -- long, stiff, curly green stalks that are essentially the tops of fresh garlic plants and look a little like angry, petrified scallions --are my favorite farm box item. Puree your garlic scapes with olive oil and put the resulting gloriously bright green pesto in a good Tupperware container. Float a bit of olive oil across the top to seal it. This can be eaten on crostini, pasta, used as a dip, spread under chicken breast skin and roasted, swirled into cream cheese for your bagels, mixed with rice and stuffed into peppers... Do not waste these scapes. They make everything they touch wonderful.

The Treasured Scape

That isn't my hand.

6. I hope you're not a vegan because sometimes the only way to deal with strange new vegetables is to cover them with cheese or puree them into a cream soup. Keep this in mind: salt inhibits bitter tastes, so get out the fleur de sel when dealing with an unfamiliar vegetal foe. You'll thank me.

7. Prepare to throw some stuff away. It's heartbreaking but also a good lesson in a) exactly how many veggies you don't eat and need to eat more of and b) exactly how much food in general you often waste. Bad, you, bad. But yay you supported a farmer and gave him the capital, and reliable customer, he needs to flourish. I thank you, Flavor thanks you, and so does your food grower. The giant nasty food industrialists curse your name, but as a very revered Marine General once told me, you should judge your worth by who your enemies are. (That was after I got thrown out of a Coalition Provisional Authority hotel in Hillah because they didn't like what I wrote about them. I thought it was fine. The CPA had armed Ghurkas escort me back to the Marine base across the road which had less reliable air conditioning and terrible food. Ghurkas are much less scary then they sound, and frankly they agreed with my assessment of the CPA. When I got back to base I was summoned into the commanders office. He said the CPA had called him to complain about me. He asked me what I wrote. I told him and he said: "that sounds about right." That is why I love Marines.)

Friday, April 1, 2011

who ARE you people? Also: I am worth 3 camels.

Not that I don't appreciate you, but I apparently have 2 readers in Sri Lanka, 14 in Saudi Arabia, 1 in Switzerland (my PEEPS! Shout out to the Hess family in Sarnen! They make schnapps!), 6 in India, 2 in Russia, 8 in Pakistan (the tribal areas? Osama, is that you???) and 4 in Slovenia, among other places.

How on earth did you find me and why are you not leaving me comments??? I am stone cold bugging. It's like the UN up in here.

Funny story about Saudi Arabia -- I was at some government palace there in 2000 with the US secretary of defense -- I was part of the traveling press -- and we had to go to one of those massive banquets. But the Saudi royalty does them so often they just fly through like 400 courses of rather desultory food so we could all go home. I couldn't wear one of my normal cocktail numbers because I'd be stoned or whatever (with actual stones), so I wore this very cool floor length pink silk skirt covered all over with crazy beading and Indian embroidery, and a turquoise blouse from the Gap that had a very precise cut in the sleeve (it was from the outlet damaged goods bin).

Anyhoodle, there was a discussion in the corner that was a bit heated, to which I was not privy, and afterwards our minder from the State Department -- a very nice woman -- said this horrible ancient Saudi prince (really like 900 years old, Cryptkeepery) had offered the SecDef three camels for me. International incident avoided when my minder told him unfortunately I had three children and a husband back home. All lies of course. So I am worth Three Camels.

Please respond in comments from far flung places about how many you are worth. Thank you.